While small walk-in businesses have been turning to the web for sales and restaurants who can longer seat diners are surviving by virtue of take-out and delivery service, normally bustling farmers’ markets in Pasadena, South Pasadena, Alhambra and other cities around Los Angeles County are also open for business, and, much like the other businesses, not as usual.

Several new protocols to help thwart the spread of COVID-19 are now in place at farmers’ markets across the Southland to promote safe shopping.

Gretchen Sterling, manager of Pasadena Certified Farmers’ Market at Victory Park in East Pasadena, says these new protocols help everyone.

“Because [it’s] important to keep these markets open, new health guidelines are in place to make sure they stay open,” Sterling says.

Social distancing is key, she says, so controlling the flow is important.

“There is now a single entry, with two exits — marked and staffed,” she points out.

Sterling says for now, its best to designate one shopper and leave the rest of your crew home. “We’re trying to encourage one person per family along to shop for now, so everyone can get in and get out safe.”

And bring a list.

“Know what you need. Use a paper list, so you can get in and get out.”

The city of Pasadena, one of only four cities around the state to have its own health departments, is following its own health directives which are in line with LA County and other markets across the state of California – including Long Beach, Vernon and Berkeley.

These directives are taking farmers’ markets back to their roots, in a word. For now, it’s food-only at farmers’ markets.

“Non-food vendors and entertainment activities have been temporarily suspended,” says Rachel Janbek, environmental health division manager with Pasadena’s Public Health Department.

Disinfection is key, and Janbek says hand sanitizer is available. “High touch” surfaces at the market and in restrooms are receiving extra disinfection.

Michelle Vega with LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office says this is all done with the greater good in mind.

“Supervisor Barger supports farmers’ markets, those who sell products and those who need them,” says Vega. “This is to flatten the curve and slow the spread.”

Other farmers’ markets, including the one in South Pasadena, are governed by the LA County Department of Health, which, like Pasadena, also recently put extra measures in place to help increase health safety for patrons.

Laurie Wheeler, president and CEO of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, says because the Los Angeles Department of Public Health has determined that certified outdoor farmers markets are essential businesses and may remain open, the South Pasadena Farmers Market is adhering to all measures.”

Wheeler says these measures include, “Posting signs reminding folks of social distancing, staying home if sick, don’t touch produce you won’t purchase, wash produce before consuming, and no hot foods or cooking on site or prepackaged foods, are allowed. This allows more space between booths.”

Wheeler reminds patrons to cover their faces.

“Face coverings are a must right now for all — farmers, employees, and visitors alike,” she says, and washing sinks are also available to customers at all farmers markets.

Says Wheeler, “The farmers’ market has loyal customers who prefer to purchase produce … directly from the producers. All the benefits of a farmers’ market are still in place during this pandemic, plus the farmers are monitoring who is actually touching the produce.”

Wheeler adds outdoor shopping brings peace of mind to some shoppers. “Farmers’ markets are outdoors, which some people feel is a safer environment than an enclosed grocery store.”

Sterling says that so far, patrons have complied.

“We don’t have a problem convincing people to do the right thing,” she says.

Other markets like Alhambra, Arcadia, Monrovia, Glendale, and Burbank have put these same measures in place to promote safe shopping and keep markets open.

One thing all agree upon is supporting farmers, who are exempt from collecting unemployment insurance during this difficult time. 

According to Sterling, “Farmers don’t get unemployment insurance. They are still farming, doing what they’ve always done, hoping there’ s someone to buy. Farmers’ Market is their direct buyer — we are their first person-to-person sale.”

Jose Jaime, owner of JF Organics, sells at both Pasadena and South Pasadena farmers’ markets and supplied produce to top restaurants across Los Angeles before COVID-19 closures.

“Business is plummeting,” says Jaime. 

Without farmers’ markets, Jaime says his family’s 35-year-old farm might not make it.

“If they shut down the farmers’ markets we’ll lose our only source of income. There’s no way farmers can survive without farmers’ markets. Even a little bit to pay the bills to pay farm workers — we need them to stay open.”

“We hope customers will stay safe, and will continue to eat really good, fresh food,” says Sterling.  


For more detailed information about new health guidelines at farmers’ markets across Los Angeles, visit http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/coronavirus/GuidanceFarmersMarkets.pdf